Thursday, 30. June 2016 20:30 | Author:admin
A while ago a friend sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal. The article suggested that business managers should encourage team members to take notes by hand, rather than on devices. This advice was based on a study of college students that demonstrated that those who took notes by hand retained information better than those who took notes on a laptop or tablet. The article was, of course, not sent to me to encourage good business practices, but a good-natured jab. I’m used to these joyous demonstrations that technological tools are not all that.
After reading the article, I replied that I was not surprised in the least by these results. College aged students today probably received the worst training ever in using technology as an effective learning tool. They were taught to use the machine as a straight substitute for pen and pad and to take notes in the same way one would do so in a notebook. Although this might work sometimes, informal note taking requires greater speed and flexibility than are easily provided with a keyboard-based device, and stylus inputs are still somewhat limited. The students working with keyboards were probably focusing more on typing than anything else. Note taking on a device is a different skill from note taking with paper and pen, and these students never learned it.
Larger than this, however, is my frustration with this type of article that makes blanket suggestions that traditional tools are best and new methods aren’t all they promise. This is the type of article that will be half-remembered and trotted out on a dozen campuses to argue against adoption of new tools. In the minds of many readers, this is the end of the story.
The term I have made up for this type of thinking is the Fallacy of the Eternal Today. The moment captured in this study becomes frozen in the mind of a reader as a permanent reality, not recognizing that the use of new tools is evolutionary and adaptive. The retention based on different note taking styles is clear…for this group of students today, but it is far from clear that it will always be that way. If we make future decisions based on current limitations, we are tied into an eternal today.
This is not a new phenomenon. Early models of the automobile were not as fast and were less reliable than horse drawn vehicles. I’m sure someone sent an auto manufacturer articles about college students who got to class faster riding horses than in cars. If we had believed that the current reality would be true forever, we would have a radically different world.
Another area where the Fallacy of the Eternal Today is present is in early assessments of e-readers. When I talk about the inevitability of electronic books becoming the norm, there is usually someone who points to a study somewhere that shows that some people retained less when reading an electronic book than a retro (paper) book. Whether this is true or not is somewhat irrelevant to me, as my question is, “Will it always be this way?” Reading an electronic book is a very different experience from reading a paper book, and our eyes, hands, and brains are still adapting to this new medium. Today’s truth is not tomorrow’s destiny.
This is not to say that critical assessment of new tools isn’t important, for amidst the true, transformative innovations there is a lot of hokum. But we should not limit our vision to only what is immediately in our sight. Rather we should ask three questions:
- Are the limitations of the technology tool based on lack of practice, lack of familiarity, or lack of development?
- Is the tool primarily limited by current hardware or software?
- Do the limitations of the technology tool reassure us that traditional, comfortable tools are better?
If the answers to any of these questions is yes, then we may be falling in to the Fallacy of the Eternal Today. The paradox of education is that we must use the means of today to prepare students for tomorrow, and educators cannot be so tied to present limitations as to see future possibilities.
As always, I welcome your opinions.
Oh, and keep those articles coming.